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Can little robots save world from the war machine?

There's strength in numbers in Shane Acker's animated fantasy epic "9."
In Acker's post-apocalyptic world, the last vestiges of war between weapons-obsessed man and machine gone awry are nine tiny mechanized good guys (named in the numerical order they were created) and the human-designed metallic beasts bent on seeking out and destroying them.

Each 8-inch tall "stitchpunk" -- an apt term coined by Acker when he created "9" as a short film while a student at UCLA -- has been imbued with distinct human personalities. The stitchpunk 1 (voiced by Christopher Plummer), for example, is the undisputed leader of the pack on a survival mission in a city that resembles a World War II battle-scared French villa while newcomer 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) is the moral challenge to his authority. And 2 (Martin Landau) is the inventor, 6 (Crispin Glover) is the visionary, and so on.
Taken as a whole, the team of stitchpunks is a formidable opponent against man's superweapons, which now roam freely over the bleak landscape. They're Edward Scissorhands-type creations built by a kindly old scientist to redeem soon-to-be extinct humanity for ruining everything. Indeed, the burlap-skinned stitchpunks are very Burton-esque and Burton lent his name to "9" as producer.
The underlying message here is that an unchecked military industrial complex will be our downfall. It's an especially relevant message now given the debate over the president's proposed weapons and defense program cuts

Robots face questions
about human nature

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'9' from C1

such as the F-22 Raptor, which could well be the name of one of the stitchpunk hunters. And for anyone who remembers being on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis or even President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (aka Star Wars), the movie's anti-war cautionary tale will ring true.
The story gets this message across by combining skittishness over sci-fi artificial intelligence with flashbacks to a Cold War-era "us vs. them" bipolar superpower world that didn't progress peacefully with a Berlin Wall falling. The machines designed to protect us have, in fact, turned against us. It's not a new concept, but throwing the stitchpunks (doesn't that term recall a roving band of late 1970s English hooligans?) into the pot makes it fresh.
The stitchpunks are also faced with important questions about human nature -- namely to what extent do we risk our own safety for the safety of others? My graduate school professor used "High Noon" starring Gary Cooper to explain theories behind international relations. This movie could similarly be used among teens to raise questions and lessons about self-interest and morality.
"9" comes in at a tight 75 minutes, and it's rated PG-13 for animated violence and scary images. In this world, wounded stitchpunks spill nuts and bolts instead of blood and guts, which doesn't mean the fighting and action scenes are any less intense.
Acker's 10-minute dialogue-less short film was such a hit in 2004 it was nominated for an Academy Award. It's nice to see the story get the full-length feature treatment it deserves. Find the original film online to marvel at how well the full-length remains true to the spirit of its predecessor. The camera work and lighting especially are superb.
And for those who monitor these types of things, it will not be lost on you that the movie "9" opening on 9/9 /09 is no coincidence. The Beatles remastered boxset also hits stores today. ("Revolution 9" anyone?)

In terms of mythic adventure and unhinged creativity, "9" is right up there with recent animated releases such as "Coraline" and "WALL-E."



Review: Three stars (out of four)

Rated: PG-13

An animated action/adventure sci fi fantasy in which the world's machines have turned on mankind and sparked social unrest. But as the world fell to pieces, a group of small creations was given the spark of life by a scientist in the final days of humanity, and they continue to exist post-apocalypse. Opens today in area theaters.

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